Tibetans from Tulan County sent two statements to the West appealing for support in efforts to halt World Bank funding of the China Western Poverty Reduction Project.
The letters are the first known indications of dissent in the area where the World Bank is proposing to move nearly 60,000 people in a controversial “poverty reduction” scheme. The large-scale population transfer project would be funded by $160 million from the World Bank and the International Development Association and is scheduled for a vote on June 24.
According to one letter signed by the “Tibetan citizens of Tulan,” in moving Chinese and Chinese Muslims into the area “the settlement is designed to create a dangerous situation in the region. Many of us will die in the conflicts and even if we survive, where do we go?…We have no alternative but to defend our land…”.
The other letter says that the project “is very dangerous to us, an evidence of the Chinese policy of ethnic cleansing of the Tibetan people…In the event the resettlement project is carried out with the World Bank financing, then the World Bank will have participated in passing a death sentence to us here.”
The project will resettle 57,800 people into Tsonub (Haixi) Tibetan and Mongolian Autonomous Prefecture, a high altitude arid area. The scheme would mark the first time that a major international funding agency has directly underwritten Beijing’s drive to move Chinese westward, onto the Tibetan plateau.
“From Indonesia to Brazil, projects funding transmigration of the ethnic majority onto the lands of ethnic minorities are littered with failure. It would be a travesty if the World Bank funded another such project,” said John Ackerly, President of the International Campaign for Tibet.
The project has generated considerable controversy within the World Bank and China is reported to have threatened some form of retaliation if the project is not approved. On May 20, the Tibetan Government in Exile publicly appealed to the Bank to reassess the project, saying “we cannot help but suspect that the Chinese government is using international agencies like the World Bank to facilitate its population transfer policy onto the Tibetan plateau.”
The pending transmigration will have severe consequences for the existing Tibetan and Mongolian population — their culture, their way of life, their autonomous standing, and their environment. In Tibetan areas, the Chinese who are resettled and migrants who come to provide services to those who are resettled, quickly dominate the local economy. Protests against the influx by Tibetans based on either economic, cultural or other grounds are often labeled as criminal and can result in serious reprisals by the government.
In the 1950s Chinese authorities sent tens of thousands of prisoners to this area to “reclaim” lands that were already being used productively by Tibetans and Mongolians. The project area was selected in part because of its long history as a center for massive labor camps. Local governments in the areas with large labor camps tend to favor and promote increasing the Chinese population and are known for facilitating the interests of Beijing.
Today, the prison population in the county where the World Bank proposes to focus its activities is a staggering 18″, the largest concentration of prisoners of any single county in China, according to Chinese government figures. The prisons have dominated the local economy and prisoners have been the chief source of labor for land reclamation projects. Bank officials maintain that they will not become entangled in the local prison economy.
The transfer of the settlers to the interior of the Tibetan Plateau would take 6 years to complete. Once completed, the percentage of the Tibetan population in the county would be reduced from 22″ to 14″, a level so low that it could jeopardize the autonomous status of the area for the Tibetans.
An extensive international coalition of Tibetan, human rights and cultural organizations are opposing the project, on the grounds that it underwrites the transmigration and resettlement of tens of thousands of people on lands traditionally inhabited by the Tibetan and Mongolian peoples. In addition, the project is being prepared in violation of Bank policies on Environmental Assessment and other internal policies.
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